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High school sports participation declines for first time in 30 years

August 26, 2019 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
For the first time in 30 years, nationwide participation in high school sports has declined from the previous year, according to a new survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

A total of 7,937,491 students participated in high school sports during the 2018-19 school year — 43,395 fewer than the 2017-18 school year. This year’s survey showed that 4,534,758 boys and 3,402,733 girls played high school sports.

“We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our ‘streak’ might end someday,” Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, said in a news release. “The data from this year’s survey serves as a reminder that we have to work even harder in the coming years to involve more students in these vital programs — not only athletics but performing arts programs as well.”

The biggest contributors to the decline were football and basketball. Participation in boys 11-player football declined by 30,829 participants to 1,006,013. It was the lowest mark since the 1999-2000 school year (1,002,734 players).

While participation in boys 11-player football dropped in all but seven states, participation in six-player, eight-player and nine-player gained 156 schools and 1,594 participants nationwide, with the largest increase in boys 8-player football from 19,554 to 20,954. In addition, in the past 10 years, participation by girls in 11-player football has doubled — from 1,249 in the 2009-10 school year to 2,404 last year.

“The survey certainly confirms that schools are not dropping the sport of football, which is great news,” Niehoff said. “Certainly, we are concerned about the reduction in the number of boys involved in the 11-player game but are thrilled that states are finding other options by starting 6-player or 8-player football in situations where the numbers have declined.

“While we recognize that the decline in football participation is due, in part, to concerns about the risk of injury, we continue to work with our member state associations, the nation’s high schools and other groups to make the sport as safe as possible. Every state has enacted rules that limit the amount of contact before the season and during practices, and every state has concussion protocols and laws in place, so we continue to believe that the sport is as safe as it has ever been.

“We also are working with groups such as USA Football to reduce contact and teach proper tackling skills at the youth levels to increase the interest level as kids reach junior high school and high school.”

Combined basketball participation was down 23,944 (13,340 girls and 10,604 boys), and the girls basketball total of 399,067 is the lowest since the 1992-93 school year. However, the decrease in girls basketball participation from 430,368 in 2016-17 to 399,067 in 2018-19 is largely attributable to a 25,000 drop in Texas during that two-year period. Dismissing the Texas numbers, girls basketball numbers have been steady in the range of 430,000 for the past seven years.

Read more from the NFHS.

* Information obtained from the NFHS

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